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gg                                                                                                                    B. POLEVOI
was raging, but from below it was so unlike that which
the participants in an air fight see, and seemed so in-
significant and uninteresting that Alexei watched it with-
out the slightest thrill.
Even when from above came a piercing screech increas-
ing in volume and a stick of bombs rapidly growing in
size came hurtling down like black drops shaken from
a brush, Alexei was not afraid and slightly raised his
head to see where they would fall.
At this moment the conduct of the "meteorological ser-
geant" amazed Alexei. When the screaming of the bombs
reached the highest pitch, the girl, who was standing
waisthigh in the slit and, as always, stealthily glancing
at him, suddenly jumped out, made a dash for the
stretcher, dropped to the ground and covered Alexei with
her body, trembling with fear and agitation.
For an instant he saw, close to his own eyes, a tanned,
quite childish face, full lips and a peeling snub nose.
The roar of an explosion was heard from somewhere in
the forest, immediately followed much nearer by a
second, a third, a fourth. The fifth was so terrific that the
earth trembled and swayed. The crown of the tree under
which Alexei was lying, severed by a splinter, came hurtl-
ing to the ground with a noise. Again he saw the pale,
terror-stricken face of the girl and felt her cool cheek
against his; and in the interval between the crashes of
two sticks of bombs, this terrified girl whispered:
"Darling! Darling! ..."
Another stick of bombs shook the earth with a terrific
roar and it looked as though whole trees shot up out of
the ground into the sky over the airfield, their crowns
burst apart, and then clumps of frozen earth fell to the
ground with a thunderous rumble, leaving in the air a
trail of brownish, acrid smoke that smelt like garlic.
When the smoke dispersed, it was already quiet all
round. The sounds of the air battle were barely audible
from behind the forest. The girl had already jumped to
her feet, her cheeks were no longer sallow but flushed.
Blushing furiously and seeming ready to cry, she said
apologetically, keeping her eyes away from Alexei:
"I didn't hurt you, did I? What a fool, Lord, what a
fool I am! I'm very sorry!"